Rodber's return heightens Saints' sense of proportion

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The Independent Online
Football-speak entered rugby quite a while ago but it has never been more pronounced than at the end of a week that has seen the departure, football-style, of Gloucester's coaching director and culminates this afternoon in the Pilkington Cup quarter-finals, writes Steve Bale.

Barrie Corless is not rugby's first managerial casualty - that dubious distinction is held by Colin McFadyean, once of Bristol. Ian McGeechan and Dick Best could also be excused a certain apprehension but less at taking Northampton and Harlequins into ties against Bath and Wakefield than about what happens when they resume their First Division travails next Saturday.

"Staying in Division One is a priority," Best, Quins' former England coach, said. "The Cup will be there next year, but relegation would be a nightmare for a club like Harlequins."

Doubtless McGeechan, a former coach of Scotland and the Lions, would say precisely the same about the Saints. So, if they are knocked out, well, at least they can get down to concentrating on the league.

Dennis Easby, the Rugby Football Union president, drew the short straw for Northampton when he drew them at the Rec and, with relegation looming so large, it is hard to imagine it will be quite the liberation their captain, Tim Rodber, suggests.

"We are totally relaxed about going to Bath," he said. "This is the most testing fixture on the circuit but we have nothing to lose."

Rodber and Martin Bayfield, Saints' two England forwards, were notable absentees from the league defeat at Bath last month, and their return - kindly granted because England are not playing in the next round of Five Nations matches - would transform their prospects against anyone but Bath.

Something similar could be said of Quins, who without Carling, Leonard and Moore have slid almost as low as Northampton and are rather better favoured by the visit of Wakefield of the Second Division than Northampton are by having to tackle the Cup holders.

Wasps venture west to Exeter, who are propping up the Third Division. Despite this precarious position, Andy Maunder, the Devon club's captain, is happy not to be concentrating on the league. "The Cup is a pleasant respite in between our struggles," he said.

Notwithstanding their league defeat by Gloucester - Corless's farewell present - Leicester remain the team most likely to challenge Bath's hegemony but, after faltering so badly at Kingsholm, they could have done with something less obviously awkward than Sale.

Paul Turner's innovative team have settled down so well in the First Division that they are in the top half of the table, and are therefore one side who really can focus their attention on the Cup without giving a thought to the league. Stop Dean Richards, Turner says in recognition of his countrymen's failure to do so for Wales against England last Saturday, and you stop Leicester.

Planning permission is being sought for Sale's Heywood Road ground and their training ground with a view to selling up and moving to a purpose- built new complex, the preference being a green-field site at Carrington Spur, two miles to the west.

In Wales, Neil Jenkins will become the first player in Anglo-Welsh rugby to reach 1,000 league points if he scores four for Pontypridd against Abertillery. Cardiff will maintain their slender lead over Jenkins' side in the likely event of victory over relegation-haunted Pontypool, and in Scotland Stirling County will take a critical step closer to their first title if they beat Boroughmuir.

In all, Jenkins has accumulated 1,334 points in 111 games for Pontypridd, a striking-rate of 12 per match and within touch of the club record of 1,407 achieved by the more sedate Colin Bolderson in 273 matches. Leaders in the Courage League, which has been going three seasons longer than its Heineken equivalent, are Andy Finnie of Bedford, with 688, and a Wasp called Rob Andrew, with 650.

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